Animals

Creature Feature: Great Horned Owl by Michael Graves

Who’s Awake? Me Too! If you’ve heard this loudly hooted call, you’re among those who have been close to a Great Horned Owl. Since the end of September, a pair have been heard prior to sunrise and again at sunset at locations across the Woodland Heights. Chances are good that they are re-establishing their territory, telling potential competitors that they have a strong pair bond and that no others need apply.

The calls of Great Horned Owls carry for a couple of blocks against the backdrop of freeway noise and up to a mile in the wild. Pairs perform duets, with the male having a rich baritone voice and with the female hooting at a slightly higher pitch. When alarmed, they will bark and make scratchy growls.

It’s best to be content with just hearing these owls, since they are masters of disguise and defy the onlooker and photographer. It’s also strongly advised that you do nothing to annoy them – such as trying to catch them in the beam of a flashlight – since their lives are already hard enough and because they have occasionally been known to use their powerful talons on those they see as a threat, particularly during nesting season in late winter and spring.

Great Horned Owls are stealthy predators, swooping down on wings that produce virtually no sound. They play an important role in helping keep populations of squirrels, rats, mice, and snakes in balance. And though they weigh no more than three pounds, they can take on prey as large as swamp rabbits, raccoons, and possums. As always, it’s best to keep cats and other small pets inside at night when owls, stray dogs, coyotes and cars are on the prowl. The songbirds and other critters on which cats prey will thank you too!

Btw – Great Horned Owls are named for the tufts of feathers they can raise on their heads to look bigger and scarier. The photos show owlets and adult birds (probably the same pair) at spots in the Woodland Heights, Woodland Park and White Oak Park. All photos were taken at a substantial distance with a “superzoom” camera at an equivalent of 1200 mm and then cropped. Please keep your distance and honor the choice that Great Horned Owls make as they share their lives with us, since they are doing their best to fulfill their role as important apex predators in the rapidly diminishing habitat available to them. We are very lucky to have them here, since there are only a few neighborhoods inside of the Beltway where Great Horned Owls raise their young.

- Wendy Wright

Editors note: I’ve routinely seen a pair Great Horned Owls in 11th Street Park, on 11th Street just past TC Jester. I typically see and hear them just as the sun starts to set, toward the southwest corner of the park.

Creature Feature: Cooper’s Hawk by Michael Graves

So… you’re walking down the street with your dog or stroller when a dark blur streaks by and a dozen doves explode out of a tree, with the jays who witnessed the event screaming JAY JAY JAY! What just happened? Chances are good that a Cooper’s Hawk is to blame and that he or she may now be enjoying a meal.

“Coops” are becoming increasingly at home within the Woodland Heights, with these woodland hawks moving into neighborhoods to offset impacts of habitat loss. Coops lurk from hidden perches in trees, swooping out to snatch birds, squirrels, rats, bats, reptiles and insects. All but the tiniest pets are safe, with Cooper’s Hawks weighing in at less than a pound and unlikely to tackle anything bigger than themselves.

Though we may feel bad for those who are eaten, the balance of nature requires these ongoing interactions of prey and predator, as is beautifully illustrated in the new movie The Biggest Little Farm. And the risks work both ways, with the Coops’ method of hunting resulting in injuries that give them an average lifespan of just one year – not good for a species that doesn’t breed until its second year.

As a result, most of the Coops you’ll see are young birds, which have a brown back and wings, and brown streaks running down the white breast and belly. Adults have a slate gray back and wings, with orangey barring across the breast and belly. Coops of all ages have a very long tail with broad brown and gray bands. Photos taken in Woodland Heights and White Oak Park display the progression from nestling, to juvenile, to adult.

Want to learn more about the birds of the ‘hood? Check out the Bayou City Birding resources of the White Oak Bayou Association at WhiteOakBayou.org/resources-and-zines and take part in the monthly bird survey at Woodland Park.

- Wendy Wright

Nominate a Bird of Houston by July 15, 2019 by Michael Graves

Recommended by City Counselor Karla Cisneros at the July WHCA general meeting. What's your vote for The Bird of Houston? https://houstonaudubon.org/birding/birdofhouston.html

Official symbols reflect the cultural heritage & natural treasures of areas. Countries and states recognize emblems like flags, birds, flowers and seals; and every city has its own unique spaces and things residents cherish. At Houston Audubon we treasure birds, people, and natural landscapes, and we are proud to be a part of the Houston community.

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Join us in celebrating Houston by helping us select a bird species that represents our bayou city. We take pride in our hometown and we want to hear from our fellow Houstonians which bird inspires or connotes emotion or thought when you think of Houston.

Is it the Great Blue Heron foraging along the bayou or the Great-tailed Grackle scoping out the local HEB parking lot? We want to hear from you!

Nomination period ends July 15, after which we will narrow the submissions to the top 8 birds based on votes. The winner will be determined via brackets beginning on July 22. This will include head-to-head voting in 7 different rounds (with 3 days of voting for each round) until we have the winner. All of this will be happening right here, so be sure to bookmark this page! We'll announce the winning bird at the beginning of our 50th anniversary Bird Week festivities (September 21 - 28, 2019).

Creature Feature: Yellow-crowned Night-Herons by Michael Graves

They came back and are doing well!!! The Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that is. The Live Oak trees on Bayland hosted a large number of nests this year, with the birds having built only a few nests along the avenue during the past few years – probably as a result of the aggressive tree trimming performed by a city contractor in 2015 while the trees were filled with nestlings. This year, each block of Bayland that provides a full canopy averaged two nests, with an average of two to three chicks from each nest in the process of leaving the nests – or “fledging.”

For the next couple of weeks, we’ll see the fledglings walking around (please drive mindfully) and making short flights around the neighborhood as they build up their strength. Soon, they’ll be easy to spot along the banks of the White Oak Bayou, feeding on a wide assortment of crayfish and other crustaceans, fish, frogs, toads, insects and even the occasional snake. If you look carefully, you’ll also be able to spot Yellow-crowns roosting in trees in White Oak Park and Woodland Park. In the fall, most will leave the area, heading to wintering grounds along the coasts of Mexico and Central America.

Yellow-crowns take on many looks, with the full adult plumage not achieved until the third year. Young birds are mostly brown with white markings. Gradually, they’ll morph over to a slate gray color scheme, with the flashy black-and-white facial markings of the adults added last. A series of photos taken in the neighborhood and along the bayou illustrates the transformation from quasi-dinosaur to svelte adult to ancient mystic.

If you’d like to know more about the birds you can find in the Woodland Heights and along the bayou, check out the Bayou City Birding Zines and Posters that can be downloaded from the website of the White Oak Bayou Association at WhiteOakBayou.org/resources-and-zines. The first of these zines features the Yellow-crowns and five other herons and egrets that can usually be spotted along the bayou.

- Wendy Wright

Feeling The Byrne on Father's Day by Michael Graves

The epic battle unfolded on Saturday, June 15, when fathers on the 400 block of Byrne challenged their kids to a rematch of an annual Father’s Day weekend tradition. Mike Bennett, Cory Clechenko, Scott McBride and Raul Ramos, reinforced by honorary block “dad” Kirk Carver, lobbed water balloons, ducking and weaving the return fire from more than a dozen boys and girls. Drenched and out of breath when the ammunition was exhausted, the battle was called a draw, with fun had by all!

Thanks to Megan Mastal, also of Byrne St, for sending in the story & pictures.

Creature Feature: NikKi Prochaska! by Michael Graves

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This month I'm exercising canine editorial privilege to acclaim Ms Niki Prochaska as the Creature Feature! Niki lives at 204 Byrne with Mike & Kamile Prochaska and Family. She just this past weekend reached her 14th birthday, which is a major milestone for a Labrador Retriever. In years past, she'd say hello to Shadow and I. Julio and I still see her regularly when we get down to Byrne Street. She's always ready to greet us and give us a wag.

According to Kamile, "Niki is a wonderful dog! Although she is 14 and weighs 80lbs. Her preference is to be a lap dog. She follows us around the house and lays her body as close to us as possible at all times, and if we do not pay attention to her, she commands attention by barking at us until we do. No one can be hugged in our house without her included. Her body may be slow, but she has the mind of a 2 year old puppy! She loves to play, bark at birds and garbage trucks, and chase cats!"

Niki is an inspiration. I hope I do as well at that age. - Gwen Espinosa-Graves

Your Canine Contributing Editor

Your Canine Contributing Editor

We call this the “Creature Feature” highlighting the fact that we’d welcome pics that are not pets. Birders! I’m talking to you! See an especially great turtle in the park, grab a pic with your phone. Send it along to communications@woodland-heights.org.

Creature Feature #3: Milo by Michael Graves

Milo came to join our family in February 2017. Someone in the neighborhood found him as a puppy wondering along the bayou and posted a lost dog alert. We responded that he wasn’t ours but we’d happy to give me a home! We spent a few weeks searching for his owners. Leads came in from other neighbors, we had him checked for a chip and called local vets but we came up empty.

We were more than happy to welcome him into our family though! Now he happily keeps watch on our corner. Every morning and afternoon Milo waits for Travis kids to say hello. If he’s lucky, a game of chase happens through the fence or someone reaches through to throw his tennis ball. He also loves playdates with his many four-legged friends in the neighborhood!

Christina DeHaven

Milo one of several dogs that comprise the NoMo Canine Mafia, which also includes Bear, Bo, Bruno, Duke, Lucy, Luna and Sam. We see at least some of them every day. - Editor

Creature Feature #2: Amelia Stowers' Menagerie by Michael Graves

The Stowers family lives on Highland Street. Their daughter, Amelia, loves animals and has seven pets, including her new basset hound puppy, “Spots” and her bearded dragon, “Sunset”. “Spots has long ears that drag the ground”, Amelia explained. And her father Greg said, “And Sunset will ride on Amelia’s shoulder and not jump off.” These are some cool pets!

Amelia Stowers, Spots & Sunset.

A holiday Brontosaurus.

This editor, while out walking our dogs, recently observed the unveiling of their latest addition, a very bright Brontosaurus, just for the holidays.

WH Creature Feature #1: Duke by Michael Graves

From the Editor: You may recall (or perhaps not) that some months ago I floated the idea of a Pet-of-the-Month. After all, there are quite likely as many pets in WH as there are people. And they are often full-fledged members of the family. It took until this week for someone to offer up their pet for this first installment.

I call it the “Creature Feature.” Beyond merely being seasonally appropriate, this highlights the fact that I’d welcome pics that are not pets. Birders! I’m talking to you! See an especially great turtle in the park, grab a pic with your phone. Send it along to communications@woodland-heights.org.

Duke: A Labrador / Great Dane Mix.

We rescued Duke as a puppy around Christmas time last year. He loves to go to the dog park and play with dogs of all sizes even though he's usually the largest. When he's not playing at the park, you can find him lounging on the front porch or taking up an entire couch. Even though he's over 100 lbs, he still our big ol' lap dog!

- Stephanie Morales

For love of screech owls: 25 years of hosting owl families by Michael Graves

My husband (Old John) and I have been hosts to screech owl families for about 25 years. The accommodation is a nesting box with a hole so the birds can have a room with a view.

Screech Owlet

Screech Owlet

We got worried about the family in residency in the box a few days ago. The last time we had seen the mother owl in the hole was on Saturday, April 21st. When we didn’t see her Sunday or Monday, we figured the babies had fledged (not a good night for it because there was a major storm at about 2 am).  So, on Friday, April 20, after checking the hole several times a day, Old John went out to take down the owl house (we do NOT want to host squirrels). The next thing I knew he was telling me we had a problem.

He had discovered he couldn’t open the top of the nesting box. As he worked with it, he felt feathers. He figured one of the owls had died in the box so he carried the box to the back yard so he could bury any remains. Using pliers, he finally got the top open only to have a tiny owlet scurry out to try to hide itself in the mulch under an azalea. Old John was horrified.

I immediately called the Texas Wildlife Coalition, which has a Houston branch whose responsibility is to rehabilitate wild mammals, amphibians, and birds. After a conference with the person who answered the phone and then conferred with the bird specialist, it was decided to put the house back up in the tree and monitor it to see if the parent(s) appeared. If not, we’d have to take the baby to the wildlife people.

So, Old John went back out where he discovered that the owlet had tried to get back into the nesting box but had gotten stuck. Apparently, owls do not know how to back up. So, very, very carefully, he moved the little fellow backward into the box. The owlet then played dead. With the house cover back on, Old John gently raised the nesting box back into position in the tree.

We began our vigil at 6:40 pm. We were afraid we might miss a parent, especially because I suspect they observed the entire nesting box debacle. Staring at a hole in a box in a tree is tiring. I had to fight to stay awake. By 8 pm, it was dusk and I could no longer even see the hole. Old John thought he saw the baby in the hole so I sent him for the binoculars. I then sat for 20 minutes with the binoculars staring at the hole. At 8:20, we saw the flash of a wing (the underside is whitish) and then a clear view of a parent flying into the box. Voila! So the baby hadn’t been abandoned. We believe the parents will continue to feed it until it is big enough to fledge.

Epilogue: We are certain this is the second baby. Screech owls usually lay a second egg from several days to several weeks after the first (probably to ensure the survival of at least one owlet).

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 Editor’s note: This story has been submitted by Rosie Walker, with permission of her anonymous friend who is devoted to assisting wildlife survival in our urban environment.

How to prevent typhus, which is on the rise in Houston area by Michael Graves

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Woodland Heights and surrounding neighborhoods are home to numerous animal species: both family pets and wild critters. The Texas Department of Health Services (TDHS) issued a health alert Nov. 30, 2017, dealing with the connection between animals and people. This alert is relative to increased incidents of flea-borne typhus in the Dallas and Houston areas.

Here is advice from the experts:

  • Don’t  leave pet food out at night
  • Use flea-control products as advised by your veterinarian
  • When handling sick or dead animals, wear gloves

Flea-borne typhus is rarely fatal; however, it can be lethal. “Since 2003, eight deaths have been attributed to flea-borne typhus infection in Texas. When left untreated, severe illness can cause damage to one or more organs, including the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain. ... Prompt antibiotic treatment is recommended; treatment should not be delayed pending diagnostic tests,” warns TDHS.

Typhus is easily treated in the early stages. People of all ages can be infected, but over 25 percent of cases occur among those between the ages 6 and 15.

For more information (it’s very clinical), visit http://www.dshs.texas.gov/news/releases/2017/HealthAlert-11302017.aspx

 

HSPCA : iWalk for Animals @ Stude Park by Mark Sternfels

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Fetch your sneakers and a furry friend, and join the Houston SPCA for some fun at the 2015 iWalk for Animals on Saturday, December 5 at Stude Park from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. There will be a 5K Canine Caper and a 1K Pup Strut along the banks of White Oak Bayou. You don't want to miss exciting demonstrations, live music and amazing vendors! And, of course, participate in everyone's favorite pet-related contests like Best Kisser, Best Costume and Pet Owner Look Alike!

Enjoy a perfect morning with your family and friends, all while raising much-needed funds to support the Houston SPCA's lifesaving programs and services. Participate on your own – or as part of a team - and help give thousands of orphaned, abused and neglected animals a second chance at life! Every step you take and every dollar you raise for the iWalk helps the Houston SPCA keep our 24-hour Injured Animal Rescue Ambulances on the road every day of the year and fund over 7,000 cruelty investigations. Your Houston SPCA is committed to all animals and intervened on behalf of nearly 50,000 animals last year including cats and dogs; small mammals; horses and farm animals; and native wildlife. And, we proudly place 100% of our healthy animals into loving, new homes!

Woodland Heights Animals Get a Lifeline by Mark Sternfels

Community Animal Hero Tonya "CatLady" Daily and Her Volunteers Help Neglected Dogs and Cats

I have met some very nice neighbors who have helped me accomplish my "dog/cat warm-house project" for pets around the Heights and have spayed/neutered, tested, vaccinated community dogs and cats found roam- ing...dumped to fend.

I made a life choice years ago to do my part to help the most helpless among us with no one looking out for them. I have worked with SNAP to set up a fund to receive donations with the money to be used to provide spay-neuter surgery, vaccinations, heartworm preventative, and other well- ness services for the animals. The success of this project has led to an ex- pansion of the program to provide warm bedding to help them survive the chilly winter.

If you would like to donate to help these animals, visit our Woodland Heights Animal Fund donation page.